Tangents - New Directions in Tango

Intoxicating rhythms of 1930s Buenos Aries: nuevo tango and new jazz.
Wesley Memorial Hall, New Inn Hall Street, Sat 20th May 2006

May 22, 2006
Tangents is an avant-garde side project of the more traditional quartet Tango Siempre, taking the format of tango-inspired modern jazz. On stage were Siempre stalwarts Pete Rosser (accordion), Ros Stephen (violin) and Jonathan Taylor (piano), joined on this tour by guests Gilad Atzmon (sax), Bethan Lewis (viola), Yaron Stavi (double bass) and – for the second half – Steve Arguelles (drums and live electronics).

David's view: Soprano sax always gets my vote, as it’s my third favourite out of the seven standard sax sizes. Israeli-born Gilad was one of Ian Dury’s The Blockheads (read more remarkable stuff about him at www.gilad.co.uk), and he was by far the most captivating performer - having the technical virtuosity of a top jazz player without dominating with histrionics, and a warm and lyrical sound invoking middle-eastern styles. (Had I known then that he also played the zurna [Turkish double-reeded wooden wind instrument], I'd have felt its absence this evening).

Though the music was sophisticated and often beautiful, it seemed to lack the vitality that a good beat might have provided (especially when the sax player and violist left the stage). In the second half, the ghostly, half-electronic kit was played by Steve Arguelles, a professorial figure of a drummer who created strange delay effects in amongst the cymbals. Whilst Steve is a big jazz figure, and had travelled over from Paris for the occasion, it nonetheless seemed that what was lacking in the first half was still lacking in the second. To be sure, one or two pieces had an interesting rhythm, but nothing made me want to get out of my chair and dance (although one couple did, spontenously at the end, which was a joy to observe).

Perhaps I went in with the wrong expectations, but I felt that the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Those parts were considerable: everyone was a consummate performer and it was clearly well-rehearsed, but - with the exception of Atzmon - none of the musicians seemed to be having much fun.

Su’s View: Firstly, I've got to say that we’ve all got our own bias - Dave's a drummer and I'm a bassist, so I know that a good upright bassist is capable of generating a beat! In this case, Yaron did not disappoint, especially on tracks such as ‘Jumba!’ which – as Rosser pointed out – were designed to highlight precisely this ‘backbeat’ role of the instrument in traditional tango.

Whilst I - conversely - did detect a slight element of the 'Jazz' mannerism in Atzmon's gurning and body-popping (this jarred a bit with the static classical style of the other musicians), there was no doubt that he was an outstanding performer. Pianist Jonathan Taylor was also flawless, switching between a grand in the first half and a swooshy electric organ for the second, blending with the effects-laden percussion. (Taylor is also the arranger and composer of many of the tunes.)

The sound was amazing, the voices of the instruments reverberating around the glorious church and the only technical issues being a slightly intrusive earth hum hovering over the last three tunes. Whilst the presence of dancers – and perhaps more importantly sometimes, a singer – would have been interesting to see (and Siempre do do live shows of this nature), I felt here that that might have over-egged the already excellent cake. The complex arrangements and the awesome skill with which they were executed made me feel lucky to be in the presence of these artists transforming tango for the body into tango for the body and soul. If you get a chance to hear this group while they're still in this configuration, then do.
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